What’s next for Georgia: Bowl bid, players leaving, potential staff changes
ATLANTA — Georgia football has plenty to clean up after its 37-10 loss to LSU, and it’s a sure bet Kirby Smart will be eager to move forward.
Smart’s 2019 season motto of “Do More” still applies.
The Bulldogs would be slotted for the Sugar Bowl should they finish as the SEC’s highest-ranked non-playoff team when the College Football Playoff rankings start to trickle out on Sunday.
Georgia sits at 11-2 with a loss in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive season.
It was a 2019 campaign that included marquee wins over Notre Dame, Florida and at Auburn, just to remain in contention for the College Football Playoffs entering the league championship weekend.
Still, many will be disappointed. One popular narrative sure to emerge is that Coach Kirby Smart missed a window to win a national championship.
Attrition, then injuries and a lack of development in the receiving corps was the most notable issue with the Bulldogs this season.
The top five receivers from the 2018 team were not on the roster at the start of the season. Things grew considerably worse when Jake Fromm’s favorite third-down target, Lawrence Cager, suffered a season-ending injury in late November.
Cager, a graduate transfer from Miami, also dealt with injuries to his shoulder and ribs that limited his playing time the second half of the season.
UGA lost two more receivers in the first half of the SEC Championship to injury, further depleting the receiving corps and greatly damaging the team’s hopes against the Tigers.
But those chapters are behind, and now Smart and Georgia must look forward, starting with a team meeting on Sunday.
Here’s what’s next for the Bulldogs’ program
Who’s staying, and who is going
Several players said after the game they would address their status with Georgia at the Sunday team meeting.
Smart likely wants to get an idea of who will be on his roster and ready to play in whatever bowl game the Bulldogs travel to.
Tailback D’Andre Swift, who was limited by a shoulder injury, did not make an announcement, but he is not expected to play in the bowl game.
Offensive linemen Andrew Thomas, Solomon Kindley, and Isaiah Wilson all said they had yet to determine their futures. Thomas is a Top 10 projected pick and a lock to leave, but his bowl status could go either way.
Kindley and Wilson will likely get NFL Draft grades outside the first two rounds and will probably play in the bowl game, delaying their decisions on whether to return for another season.
Junior Ben Cleveland was not seen in the locker room, likely receiving treatment.
Junior safety Richard LeCounte is another player who could be mulling his future. The LSU offense may have provided LeCounte some insight into what would be waiting for him in the NFL should he decide to turn pro and not return for his senior season.
Jake Fromm wouldn’t seem to have a lot of momentum for an early exit to the NFL.
But Fromm will also consider the quarterback class this year versus next year, and perhaps most importantly, his potential for improvement should he return for a senior season at Georgia.
Finally, the transfer portal bears watching closely. Players have a very limited window to make visits and be recruited by other schools. Any UGA players looking to enter the portal will do so very soon.
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning is a likely interview target for the Memphis head coaching job, and there’s still speculation Smart might be interested in bringing Mike Bobo back to Athens.
Lanning, the SEC Championship Game aside, did an impressive job with the Georgia defense and with the development of the team’s outside linebackers.
Lanning has a dynamic presence and tireless work ethic, and that appeals to athletic directors considering head coaches.
Memphis, the American Athletic Conference Champions, may be in position to land a more experienced head coach than Lanning would be. But Lanning is sure to get some consideration, and he shouldn’t be ruled out.
As for the potential of Bobo coming back, there would need to be a lot of moving parts. It shouldn’t be considered any more than a possibility that will be considered at this point.
But that’s what will happen on the trip back from Atlanta, Smart considering several options that can help his team immediately.
Smart did not express disappointment in James Coley, who he knew to be dealing with personnel limitations.
Smart has proven a capable leader at Georgia, resilient and energetic in addition to his coaching acumen. It will be up to the head coach to set a new tone at the team meeting on Sunday and hit the recruiting trail with enthusiasm and hope for his program.
Smart said it best after the national championship game loss to Alabama in 2017: “I’m not going to let that game beat me twice.”
Smart will need to make sure his coaching staff, who will also be out on the road recruiting, carries the same confidence and energy about the program. The players, too, must show resilience once more to avoid another embarrassing bowl loss.
The Georgia brand was staggered by the knockout punch LSU landed on Saturday, and a short recovery window is imperative for the program to maintain the upward trend Smart has produced.
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